In this April, 15, 2008, file photo, Jackie Doyle, of Greenwood Lake, NY, second from left, waits in line to mail her husband's taxes at the James A. Farley Main Post Office in New York. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg, File)
Your friendly local post office may have an honorable history, but it’s facing tough times, including a fiscal crisis and, more generally, a struggle to keep pace with growing digital communication technologies. Conservatives have increasingly dismissed the United States Postal Service as a clunky relic of old-fashioned America, with right-wing lawmakers seeking to phase it out through service cuts and privatization. Now, some progressives are trying to save the USPS by rebranding it as a financial vehicle: a place for you to pick up your mail and deposit a paycheck in one stop.
Some officials have pitched the idea of the postal service expanding into “non-bank” financial services, carefully designed to complement rather than directly compete with Wall Street. In a recent white paper, the USPS Inspector General’s office suggested that local post offices could offer products such as international money transfers, small short-term loans and prepaid debit cards for bills or everyday purchases. To fulfill needs unmet by big banks, these financial services would ideally be targeted toward “low-income areas like rural communities and inner cities.”
Ultimately, though, many advocates want to see the postal service be bolder and actually delve into full-scale banking services. Labor and consumer advocacy groups like AppleSeed say the USPS is excellently positioned as a government-supported, publicly accountable institution to fill a longstanding gap in the financial system by offering interest-bearing accounts and other basic banking services. In addition, branching into the affordable finance business would offer the USPS a steady revenue stream. MORE
Wednesday’s announcement by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler that the FCC would write new rules to insure open access to the Internet — otherwise known as Net neutrality — generally was seen by consumers as a step in the right direction. But media reform advocates were concerned that it didn’t go far enough.
As The New York Times’Edward Wyatt reported, Wheeler’s new plan “represents a reboot of sorts for the FCC.
Two previous efforts were thrown out by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the first in a 2010 case filed by Comcast. Despite the ruling, Comcast agreed to follow the rules as a condition of its purchase of NBCUniversal. Comcast said last week that this agreement would extend to its purchase of Time Warner Cable.
In another case, brought by Verizon, a federal appeals court ruled last month that a similar set of the F.C.C.’s rules illegally treated Internet service providers as regulated utilities, like telephone companies. But the court said that the commission did have authority to oversee Internet service in ways that encourage competition.
Internet wiring at Google's data center in Berkley County, SC. (AP Photo/Google, Connie Zhou)
Rather than appeal that most recent decision, in his announcement, Wheeler wrote that he saw the affirmation of the FCC’s authority as an “invitation” from the court to propose rules “that will meet the court’s test for preventing improper blocking of and discrimination among Internet traffic, ensuring genuine transparency in how Internet Service Providers manage traffic, and enhancing competition.”
He continued, “Preserving the Internet as an open platform for innovation and expression while providing certainty and predictability in the marketplace is an important responsibility of this agency,” and mentioned a recent meeting with start-up entrepreneurs in California:
Their companies may succeed or they may fail depending on whether they are truly creative and innovative. But they and other innovators cannot be judged on their own merits if they are unfairly prevented from harnessing the full power of the Internet, which would harm the virtuous cycle of innovation that has benefitted consumers, edge providers, and broadband networks.
Opposition from Republicans on the commission and in the House of Representatives was quick. GOP Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said, “Instead of fostering investment and innovation through deregulation, the FCC will be devoting its resources to adopting new rules without any evidence that consumers are unable to access the content of their choice,” and his Republican colleague Ajit Pai wrote, “Today’s announcement reminds me of the movie Groundhog Day. I am skeptical that this effort will end any differently from the last.”
Meanwhile, Michigan Congressman Fred Upton, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee denounced the decision: “The Obama administration refuses to abandon its furious pursuit of these harmful policies to put government in charge of the Web.”
Media reformers were dissatisfied as well, but for different reasons; worried that the new rule changes still will face court challenges, as well as other political and industry interference unless the FCC reclassifies the Internet as a telecommunications service that can be regulated, as television, radio and telephones already are. Craig Aaron, president and CEO of the media policy group Free Press said, “If the FCC ultimately fails to act decisively the open Internet will be damaged for good. The American people want the FCC to stand up for them — and reclassifying broadband is the best way to protect all of us. That’s the message millions of people have sent the FCC and the Obama administration. Our voices will get louder unless and until policymakers in Washington take action and protect free speech online.”
ColorofChange Executive Director Rashad Robinson declared, “Any plan that does not include reclassification allows corporate gatekeepers like Comcast and Verizon to block, slow down and choose which voices and viewpoints are heard.” His and Craig Aaron’s words were echoed by former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, now with Common Cause, who said he welcomed Chairman Wheeler’s prompt response to the latest court decision but that he continued to believe that “reclassification is, by far, the surest and best way to guarantee consumer protections and free speech online. I hope the Commission will get there soon.”
Chairman Wheeler did note that he reserves the right to reconsider and reclassify the Internet as a telecommunications service if the new rules don’t work or are otherwise obstructed. After a period for public comment, the full commission should vote on his proposed rewrite by early summer.
And somewhat buried toward the end of Wednesday’s statement from Wheeler was another piece of potential good news: “The Commission will look for opportunities to enhance Internet access competition. One obvious candidate for close examination… legal restrictions on the ability of cities and towns to offer broadband services to consumers in their communities.”
According to The Washington Post, the FCC may “investigate state-level laws banning the rollout of city-built broadband networks. Many cities, such as Longmont, Colo., and Chattanooga, Tenn., have tried to construct their versions of Google Fiber and to run them like public utilities — much to the frustration of incumbent cable companies and other large Internet providers that view the upstarts as potential competitors.”
Author and communications lawyer Susan Crawford, who appeared as a guest on Moyers & Company a year ago, approves of Wheeler’s move. Writing in the Financial Times, she notes, “He is rightly seeking to replicate the efforts of many small communities across America to create their own wholesale fiber infrastructure. A similar approach has proved successful in Stockholm and Seoul. This would loosen the grip of the cable monopolies on America’s future.”
Wheeler’s statement was accompanied by an FCC fact sheet well worth reading on how Internet growth and investment have “flourished” under the rules of net neutrality. See it here »
Another contender down? –> At The Daily Beast, Ben Jacobs samples some eye-opening tidbits from the 28,000 pages of documents released in the investigation of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Gun nuttery –> Del Quentin Wilber at Bloomberg: “Record US Gun Production as Obama ‘Demonized’ on Issue.”
On the eighth day… –> Disgraced former Speaker Tom Delay told a radio host that “Americans have forgotten that God wrote the Constitution.” Via: Right Wing Watch.
Drama –> Current Speaker John Boehner said, “I’d rather kill myself than raise the minimum wage,” according to The Hill’s Molly Hooper and Bob Cusack.
Brrrrrr –> Salon’s Lindsay Abrams reports that the polar vortex is coming back with a vengeance next week — about two-thirds of the country can expect temps up to 35 degrees below normal for this time of year.
Science of selfies –> We’re not sure why anyone would undertake a “rigorous analysis” of selfies taken around the world, but someone did and Ariel Bogle wrote up the results for Slate.
US Trade Representative Michael Froman attends a leaders' retreat during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Bali, Indonesia, Oct. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, Pool)
Officials tapped by the Obama administration to lead the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations have received multimillion dollar bonuses from CitiGroup and Bank of America, financial disclosures obtained by Republic Report show.
Stefan Selig, a Bank of America investment banker nominated to become the undersecretary for international trade at the Department of Commerce, received more than $9 million in bonus pay as he was nominated to join the administration in November. The bonus pay came in addition to the $5.1 million in incentive pay awarded to Selig last year.
Michael Froman, the current US Trade Representative, received over $4 million as part of multiple exit payments when he left CitiGroup to join the Obama administration. Froman told Senate Finance Committee members last summer that he donated approximately 75 percent of the $2.25 million bonus he received for his work in 2008 to charity. CitiGroup also gave Froman a $2 million payment in connection to his holdings in two investment funds, which was awarded “in recognition of [Froman's] service to Citi in various capacities since 1999.” MORE
Good morning! Here are some of the stories we’re reading at Moyers & Company HQ on a fine day in NYC…
Unconstitutional –> A Nebraska judge ruled that lawmakers violated the state’s constitution when they empowered Gov. Dave Heineman to approve 200 miles of the Keystone pipeline. David Lauter reports for the LAT that the ruling threatens the entire project.
Neo… pogrom? –> Members of the band Pussy Riot were attacked in Sochi yesterday by… Cossacks. Yes, you read that right. Via: AP.
Warrantless –> Julian Hattem reports for The Hill that two House Dems are pressing the DOJ to review the FBI’s practice of sending letters demanding information from companies without a court’s sign-off.
Menace to society –> Alec MacGillis writes at TNR that the NRA is fighting new “smart gun” (and ammo) technologies that could reduce gun violence and accidental shootings.
Climate denialism and the crash –> Seumas Milne writes in The Guardian that climate denialism increases when times are tough economically — at least in the US and the UK.
IRS –> The IRS is considering new rules that would clarify what political activities “social welfare organizations” can participate in. The effort is infuriating conservatives, reports Richard Rubin for Bloomberg.
Ukraine –> Rosie Gray reports for Buzzfeed that the US has banned visas for 20 senior officials in the Ukrainian government for “ordering or otherwise directing human rights abuses related to political repression in Ukraine.”
Art or soup? –> Thinking they were trash, a cleaning woman in an Italian gallery threw away two pieces of contemporary art valued at $14,000. Via: AP.
Here, have one free pizza –> Last week, there was a massive explosion at a fracking well in Bobtown, Penn., which burned for five days and left one resident missing and presumed dead. But it’s OK, because Chevron apologized and offered town residents coupons for a free pizza. Via Lindsay Abrams at Salon.
Details, details –> Rosalind S. Helderman reports for The Washington Post that two criminal investigations may “complicate” Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s presidential ambitions.
Problems intersect –> First-time homebuyers are hard to find, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says one reason there are so few is that young people are burdened with so much student debt. Ashlee Kieler has the story at Consumerist.
Rand Paul’s wrong –> So writes John Nichols in The Nation, arguing that the US doesn’t need a new GOP, it needs the old, pre-radicalized version.
Seriously, what’s the matter with Kansas? –> Under current law, Kansas schoolchildren can be spanked as long as it’s not hard enough to leave a mark, but now Sunflower State lawmakers want to change the law to “allow up to 10 strikes of the hand and smacks hard enough to leave redness and bruising,” according to local KCTV News.
Take that, Vlad –> Openly gay and bisexual women are doing great at Sochi, according to Patricia Nell Warren at OutSports.
We’ll believe when we see it –> At National Memo, Jason Sattler argues that seniors are turning on the GOP, and says it may prove to be a game changer in the midterms.
Who do you represent? –> The Ohio Department of Public Resources developed a plan to promote fracking and marginalize environmental activists. Katie Valentine reports for ThinkProgress.
No progress for you! –> Lisa Rein reports for The Washington Post that the paper industry has created a “consumer group” that’s lobbying the federal government to slow down its transition to electronic records.
Creepiest impact of global warming? –> In Italy, a thawing glacier is gradually revealing the mummified remains of soldiers killed during the highest battle of World War I. Via: Motherboard.
Not so subtle –> Members of Pussy Riot, recently released from prison, were arrested in Sochi for allegedly stealing from their hotel before they could perform a performance piece critical of Vladimir Putin. Julia Ioffe has the story for TNR.
Tricky Dick –> At Salon, historian Robert Slayton writes that Richard Nixon is ultimately responsible for making the GOP beholden to its white, Southern base.
Lessons from Tennessee –> Rich Yeselson offers some lessons from the UAW’s failed union drive at VW’s Chattanooga plant for Jacobin.
Under wraps –> A New York Republican operative has asked a court to delay his corruption trial until after November because “key GOP campaign strategies could be ‘exposed’ before this year’s gubernatorial and legislative races,” reports Rich Calder for the NY Post.
Double standard –> Rebecca Traister reviews recent attacks on Wendy Davis and Hillary Clinton for TNR and concludes that it’s still the case that only women politicians have to answer for their family lives.
Not sharing the wealth –> Nick Summers reports for Bloomberg Businessweek that while the stock market — and billionaire’s wealth — has recovered, the philanthropy of the wealthiest Americans hasn’t rebounded.
The lure of a decent wage –> Kirk Johnson reported over the weekend for the NYT that workers in states with low minimum wages are either moving or making long commutes for higher-paying jobs in neighboring states.
Devil’s in the details –> George Jahn reports for the AP on the “huge hurdles” ahead for a final deal with Iran.
Scarcity and floppy shoes –> NY Daily News headline says it all: “National clown shortage may be approaching, trade organizations fear.”
A pipe break at a Patriot Coal preparation site spewed more than 100,000 gallons of coal slurry into a waterway near Charleston, WV on Tuesday.
“When this much coal slurry goes into the stream, it wipes the stream out,” said Randy Huffman, Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.
Tuesday’s spill did not occur near a drinking water intake, an area of particular concern for nearby residents as the safety of their water supply remains a concern more than one month after a massive chemical spill contaminated the water for 300,000 West Virginians. Coal slurry contains a range of toxic substances, including chemicals used to wash the coal and heavy metals, like iron, manganese, aluminum and selenium.
Here are some images from the spill:
CREDIT: FOO CONNER/@IWASAROUND
CREDIT: FOO CONNER/@IWASAROUND
CREDIT: FOO CONNER/@IWASAROUND
CREDIT: FOO CONNER/@IWASAROUND
CREDIT: FOO CONNER/@IWASAROUND
Kiley Kroh is co-editor of Climate Progress. You can follow her on twitter @kileykrow.
Criminals in the state house –> Peter Beck, a powerful Ohio state lawmaker, has been charged with 69 felonies in a bizarre money-laundering and fraud scheme related to a church that prosecutors describe as a “cult.” Chrissie Thompson reports for The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Schadenfreude alert –> Salon’s Alex Pareene on the “sad fake ‘millennial’ anti-debt group” that’s now mired in debt.
Shameless plutocracy –> Having recently warned of a “progressive Kristallnacht,” billionaire Tom Perkins says wealthy people should get more votes than the rest of us. Apparently, he ignored our advice to shut up.
Veritas –> Gotcha videographer James O’Keefe sued for defamation and wrongful termination. Dave Weigel with the details for Slate.
We’re exhausted –> Upworthy’s Carolyn Silveira has some snappy graphics that show how overworked Americans are — and why we should take every Friday off.
“Giant evil” –> Church of England considering divestment from fossil fuels to fight the “giant evil” of climate change, reports Ari Phillips for ThinkProgress.
Failing upward –> At The Nation, Rick Perlstein eviscerates Democratic Leadership Council founder Al From’s revisionist history of the business-friendly Democratic group.
Time for a raise –> Jacob Fischler reports for Buzzfeed that House Democrats are trying to get enough signatures on a discharge petition to force a vote on a minimum wage hike.
Good morning! And a happy 91st birthday to Chuck Yeager, whose drawl is emulated by pilots worldwide. Here are some of the stories we’re reading in the middle of a blizzard here in NYC…
Stat of the day: 68 percent — share of Seattle voters who support a $15-per-hour minimum wage according to a recent poll.
Meet the Wilks –> While the Koch brothers have become a magnet for controversy, Dan and Farris Wilks have largely flown under the radar. The brothers made their fortune in fracking, and are now spending a chunk of it to fund a network of right-wing advocacy groups. Karoli runs down some of their activities for Crooks and Liars.
Ag-gag –> Bill that would severely punish people who expose animal abuse at factory farms advances in Idaho. The AP’s John Miller has the details.
Head-scratcher –> Jennifer Bendery reports for HuffPo that Obama’s nomination of a socially conservative judge with a dubious civil rights record is causing an “all-out revolt” among his supporters.
They’re not just worried about primaries –> Members of Congress use closely-held private email addresses. Someone has been sending Republicans bizarre threats about this week’s vote to raise the debt limit, and some think it may be one of their own — “probably one of the crazy ones,” according to one lawmaker. John Stanton reports for Buzzfeed.
Hunger strike –> A federal appeals court dismissed three Guantanamo detainees’ demand that they no longer be subjected to force-feeding. AFP via The Raw Story.
For-profit prisons –> An audit of a private prison in Idaho found that guards were working shifts of up to 48 hours, and now Corrections Corporation of America is fighting to get the report changed. Rebecca Boone reports for the AP.
Back to the 1990s –> Mother Jones’ David Corn on Rand Paul’s strategy of using the Monica Lewinsky scandal to attack Democrats in 2014.
Sanity and the drug war –> The federal government classifies marijuana as being just as dangerous as heroin, but according to Washington state’s NBC affiliate, 18 members of Congress are now trying to change that.
There’s no war on religion –> At The Washington Monthly, Ed Kilgore explains what’s really going on in a society in which social mores are changing.
Points for effort –> A 10-year-old Norwegian boy loaded his baby sister into the family car and drove off to visit their grandparents. After he ran off the road, he told authorities that he was a dwarf who had left his license at home. (Nobody was hurt.)
Good morning! Abraham Lincoln was born on this day in 1809, but you’ll have to wait until Monday for a holiday. In the meantime, here are some of the stories we’re reading today…
Stat of the day: 0.000 — Time separating the downhill runs of Tina Maze of Slovenia and Dominique Gisin of Switzerland in the first tie for gold in the history of Olympic alpine skiing.
That was quick –> Yesterday, Speaker John Boehner brought a clean debt limit hike to the floor, where it passed with mostly Democratic votes. Daniel Strauss reports for TPM that the hard-right Senate Conservatives Fund is already calling for his ouster as speaker.
A little civility –> Washington State Governor Jay Inslee has suspended the death penalty in the Evergreen State. John Bacon reports for USA Today.
Mad as Hell –> Residents of a Chinese village that’s been polluted for years by a local factory went on a rampage when the factory’s owners refused to meet with them, according to the AP.
Really messed that one up –> Eli Lake reports for The Daily Beast that while the American Israel Public Affairs Committee usually enjoys broad bipartisan support, it managed to alienate virtually everyone with its recent push for new sanctions against Iran over the objections of the White House — and even the Israeli government.
BENGHAZI!!! –> At The Progressive, Stephen Webster argues that a report issued by the GOP-chaired House Armed Services Committee pretty much kills off those Benghazi conspiracy theories. BUT: Sahil Kapur reports for TPM that the findings won’t deter a GOP-linked group reminiscent of the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth from using the nontroversy to go after Hillary Clinton as we approach 2016.
Dreamy –> Slate’s Dave Weigel on why some conservatives have developed a “crush” for Vladimir Putin.
Fact-check –> Will Keystone XL create only 35 permanent jobs, as Van Jones claimed last week? Politifact says: “True!”
23 years –> Alan Greenblatt reports for NPR that tipped service workers haven’t seen a hike in their federal minimum wage for over two decades.
Zombie myths never die –> At the WaPo, Harold Meyerson writes, again, that there is no law anywhere requiring businesses to “maximize shareholder returns.”
Incoherent –> At Salon, Christian and Calvin Exoo take a skeptical look at Rand Paul’s claim that marriage provides a way out of poverty.
Long-ago stroll –> Scientists discovered the oldest evidence of our human ancestors outside of Africa in the form of 800,000 year-old footprints on a British beach. Sudeshna Chowdhury has the story for the Christian Science Monitor.
The Obama administration is debating whether to authorize a lethal strike against an American citizen living in Pakistan who some believe is actively plotting terrorist attacks, according to current and former government officials.
The officials would not confirm the identity of the suspect, or provide any information about what evidence they have amassed about the suspect’s involvement in attacks against Americans. The debate about whether to put the individual on a kill list was first reported on Monday by The Associated Press. MORE
Good morning! Twenty-four years ago today, Nelson Mandela was released after a 27-year stay in a South African prison — four years later, he became president. In newer news, here are our Morning Reads…
Snatched –> The WaPo obtained closed circuit TV footage of a US special forces team abducting an alleged former associate of Osama bin Laden in Libya. Adam Goldman has the story.
Greasing the wheels –> A prominent lobbying firm has agreed to a record fine for lavishing California lawmakers — including Gov Jerry Brown — with improper gifts, according to Patrick McGreevey at the LAT.
Just a tad suspicious –> A black man married to a white woman was found dead in a Texas forrest with his throat slit, and the local sheriff concluded he’d died of a drug overdose. Family members say he had no history of drug use. Yvette Caslin reports for Rolling Out.
Today’s outrage=no biggie –> At TNR, Jonatha Cohn writes that despite some political drama over the Obama administration’s decision to delay a mandate that large employers have to provide their workers with insurance coverage, the real-world impact of the decision should be minor.
Mas –> TAP’s Paul Waldman blasts employers who falsely claim that Obamacare is forcing them to cut employees benefits. ALSO: CBO Director Doug Elmendorf answers questions about what his agency’s recent report really said about the ACA and employment.
Parched –> Alex Park and Julia Lurie report for MoJo that California’s drought may be the worst in 500 years.
Kathy Jones reacts during the closing remarks by Rev. William Barber at the Moral March on Raleigh on Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, NC, on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/The News & Observer, Robert Willett)
Somewhere between 80 to 100,000 people from 32 states turned out to protest four years of drastic state Republican initiatives in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Saturday.
The “Moral March on Raleigh,” organized by Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ), marched from Shaw University to the state capitol to push back against the “immoral and unconstitutional policies” of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory during the 2013 NC General Assembly session. Since North Carolina Republicans took over both legislative chambers in 2010, legislators have eliminated a host of programs and raised taxes on the bottom 80 percent, repealed a tax credit for 900,000 working families, enforced voter suppression efforts, blocked Medicaid coverage, cut pre-Kindergarten funding, cut federal unemployment benefits and gave itself the authority to intervene in abortion lawsuits. MORE
A first look –> Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill report on the NSA’s role in the US-targeted assassination program for The Intercept.
More democracy ahead? –> Alexander Bolton reports for The Hill that Harry Reid is considering another round of filibuster reform as the Senate remains blocked.
Real people –> Last week, we mentioned that AOL CEO Tim Armstrong cited the costs of “two distressed babies” to justify cutting his employees’ benefits. Deanna Fei is the mother of one of those children and over at Slate, she has a few words for Armstrong.
Spay and neuter your animals –> The Copenhagen Zoo’s decision to shoot a young giraffe — in front of children — and then feed him to the lions because his genes weren’t necessary for Europe’s captive breeding program has sparked global outrage.
Indentured servitude? –> TPM’s Josh Marshall writes about conservatives’ reaction to news that Obamacare will allow some Americans to work less.
Big –> Ari Berman reports on the huge Moral March held in North Carolina over the weekend for The Nation.
They feel the Earth move –> According to NPR, there’s been a surge of earthquakes in the US which scientists have linked “the boom in oil and gas activity.”
Immigration roadblock –> Sen. Chuck Schumer tried — but likely failed — to call House Republicans’ bluff on immigration reform, according to Reuters.
Fukushima –> A class action suit has been filed against Tokyo Electric Power on behalf of US Navy personnel who took part in a relief operation off of the coast of Japan in 2011 and are now facing health problems. Harvey Wasserman has the story for EcoWatch.
Well, he was a crime dog –> Actor who played McGruff, the crime dog, sentenced to prison for growing marijuana and stockpiling weapons, including a grenade launcher.